Photo by Sarah Olender
34 days after Northeastern’s weekend sweep of Providence to close out the first semester, things looked a little different for Jerry Keefe’s squad in a weekend tilt versus Long Island University to begin 2022.
Among the differences on Friday: the eerily quiet Matthews Arena without fans in attendance, a lineup without top scorer Aidan McDonough, and the long-awaited return of forwards Sam Colangelo, Ty Jackson, and Riley Hughes from extended injury absences before the break. And, of course, the lauded return of the championship red jerseys.
Northeastern narrowly escaped with a 1-0 victory on Friday, propelled by a third-period goal from Ty Jackson and a 17-save shutout from Devon Levi in net. But despite the many moving pieces and long layoff, Keefe did not mince words about the Huskies plodding performance.
“Not pleased with the way we played tonight, it was actually really disappointing,” Keefe said after Friday’s win. “We didn’t play the way we were playing when we were winning going into the break. I thought our identity wasn’t there tonight.”
Whether it was a month of rust, the lack of energy in the building, or re-incorporating old faces back into the lineup, Northeastern’s performance on Friday lacked the sharpness and energy the team has played with all season.
“Some of the rust isn’t so much the skating and the puck-handling and things like that, I think it’s mental,” Keefe said. “Tomorrow, hopefully we are sharper mentally.”
Keefe’s message was received emphatically on Saturday. In addition to the return of McDonough, the Huskies looked poised, explosive, and energized from the start, scoring three goals in the first period en route to a 6-0 beatdown of LIU.
“We challenged our guys pretty hard after last night’s game,” Keefe said Saturday. “Hats off to our guys, because I thought they responded the right way today.”
Here’s five thoughts following Northeastern’s weekend sweep:
Devon Levi Continues to Redefine What’s Possible
Northeastern appeared rusty after the month-long hiatus on Friday. Naturally, there was one player who looked as sharp and focused as ever: Devon Levi.
“Mentally I thought he was really sharp,” Keefe said of Levi’s performance Friday. “They put a lot of pucks to the net, so he’s gotta stay sharp the entire game, and I thought he played really well.”
Levi shutout LIU both Friday and Saturday, compiling 43 saves across the two games. Levi is going places few have ever gone in NCAA hockey, with an unfathomable 8 shutouts, .958 SV%, and 1.19 goals against average, or GAA, across his 20 starts this season. The NCAA all-time single-season shutout record (12) – and perhaps even the single-season SV% record (.956) – are seemingly within reach for Levi, albeit with 16 regular season games and difficult conference opponents remaining on the schedule.
The numbers behind what Levi is accomplishing makes his season even more remarkable. He’s played every minute of Northeastern’s 20 games, including a three games in four days stretch in early November. Northeastern’s teamwide Corsi-for percentage (a ratio of shots attempted to shots allowed) is just 46.6%, 46th out of 59 Division I schools. While CF% is far from a perfect metric or indicator, it serves as a benchmark for just how much pressure has been placed on Levi this season, and how significantly Northeastern has relied on him to handle the high volume of shots.
Levi has made 27 saves per 60 minutes this season. As a reference point, Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay, who sports a similar 1.23 GAA and is one of the few NCAA goalies in Levi’s stratosphere production-wise this season, has made just 16.8 saves-per-60 minutes. In essence, Levi is making ten more saves per game than McKay, and still is allowing fewer goals per game. And while not all shot attempts are created equal, the shot volume Northeastern’s defense has ceded this season makes Levi’s production that much more of an outlier relative to his peers. And Levi has made his share of highlight-worthy saves as well, displaying elite anticipation and explosiveness on a nightly basis.
The Return of Ty Jackson, Sam Colangelo, and Riley Hughes Was a Success
It’s been easy to overlook the sheer quantity of injuries to Northeastern’s forward depth this season, simply because the Huskies have won so much. But it was a welcome sight to see Jackson, Colangelo, and Hughes back in the lineup Friday, after missing large swaths of the first semester with a myriad of injuries. Dylan Jackson is now the only forward still sidelined.
While it took all three returning players time to adjust on Friday, each played a big part in the Huskies’ offensive explosion on Saturday. The additional depth reverberates across Northeastern’s lineup and strengthens the bottom-six substantially. With the returning depth, Keefe can afford to place a player like Matt Choupani on the fourth line on Saturday – a luxury he can’t afford without those additional forwards available.
Sam Colangelo jump-started the Huskies’ scoring spree Saturday with a power play goal in the first period, his third of the season. “He’s a big body, he can skate, and he can finish,” Keefe said about the impact Colangelo makes in the lineup. “I thought he was playing some pretty good hockey this year before he got banged up, so he’s getting his timing back….he’s got a lot of ability, and when he’s playing at the top of his game, he can be a difference maker.”
Northeastern’s third line on Saturday – Fontaine, Jackson, and Colangelo – was really sharp before Fontaine exited with a Game Misconduct in the first period. Jackson’s goal was a great team effort, with a nice takeaway from Fontaine leading to a 1-on-0 rush and eventual rebound score for Jackson. Jackson scored in both games this weekend, upping his season average to 0.79 points per game, second best on the team behind McDonough.
Northeastern’s Power Play Has Struggled This Season, But Looked Better Saturday
It was just last season that Northeastern deployed one of the best power play units in the country, converting on 26.9% of power plays (25-for-93), fourth best in the NCAA. Entering Saturday, Northeastern was converting on just above 12% of their power plays this season – 51st in the country, and the second-worst rate in Hockey East.
“There’s a lot to improve on [the power play],” Keefe said Friday night.
Northeastern is really struggling to generate scoring chances on the man advantage. The Huskies eight power play goals this season have been scored on 75 shot attempts, which is a respectable 10.6% clip in isolation. But the underlying issue is simply how few chances they’ve generated, averaging only 1.41 shots per power play.
With that said, the Husky power play looked significantly sharper on Saturday, with both Colangelo and McDonough scoring power play goals and Northeastern penetrating the interior of the LIU zone consistently with the man advantage. The two power play goals today raise Northeastern’s power play conversion percentage to 15.1% on the season, but the unit still has room to improve in the second semester. Saturday was a good start.
Aidan McDonough Continues To Shine
McDonough has established himself this season as one of the premier goal scorers in college hockey, and he didn’t miss a beat on Saturday after his injury layoff extended through Friday’s game. McDonough punched in two more goals on Saturday, vaulting his season total to 15 goals in 19 games. McDonough’s 15 goals scored is third best in the country, and it’s his efficiency that’s truly astounding. McDonough is shooting 26.3% this season, and he doesn’t even crack the top 50 nationally in shots attempted.
“He puts himself in really good spots to shoot the puck, he’s always ready for the puck, he can one-time the puck when it’s anywhere near his body, and he’s hungry to score,” Keefe said about McDonough’s scoring prowess. “He loves scoring goals, and he works to score goals.”
McDonough’s calling card has been his powerful wrist shot that consistently beats goaltenders, either as a one-timer or by creating space for himself with the puck and firing at high-percentage angles, as he did against LIU on Saturday. He’s a proven scorer at this level who will continue to be the most valuable offensive piece for the Huskies going forward.
Northeastern Needs To Take Care of Business This Week, Before the True Test Awaits
Northeastern exits the weekend with a sweep against a bottom-feeder LIU team ranked 56th in the pairwise. The recently-scheduled game against Arizona State on Tuesday should provide a bump-up in competition for the Huskies, as the Sun Devils are ranked 30th in pairwise and boast a quality win over UMass-Lowell early in the season. However, ASU got outscored 12-3 this weekend in two games against Boston University. Northeastern then will travel to Burlington for a weekend series against an offensively-challenged 3-13-2 Vermont team sitting towards the bottom of Hockey East.
Northeastern will be the better team in each of these matchups, and should be able to take care of business over the next week. The true test then awaits against UMass in a home-and-home series the following weekend. UMass sits directly above Northeastern in the Hockey East standings and pairwise rankings, and that weekend should be a true litmus test of where the Huskies stand in both Hockey East and the national picture.
WRBB’s next broadcast will take place Saturday, Jan 15 at the Whittemore Center in New Hampshire as Northeastern Women’s Hockey faces UNH. Matty Wasserman, Mike Puzzanghera, and Rae Deer will be on the call.